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Wanda Johnson - Hold What You Got

Erwin Music

14 songs; 56:02 minutes; Suggested

Style: Variety: blues, soul, R&B, pop, and gospel

Hey Skyy,
I attended the Chicago Blues Festival last year and saw a really great female singer performing named Wanda Johnson. She had a strong, ear catching voice that covered a wide range. I had never heard of her before, but that is the beauty of a huge, free festival like Chicago’s – I get to see new-to-me artists. She was on the Front Porch Stage on Sunday afternoon, June 10.

Anyhoo..... why haven’t more people heard her? Why don’t you do a review of her? You review all these big name artists from the big labels, but why not give the little guy a break? She sang a cute song about being a “low maintenance woman who was allergic to mink.” Ain’t that funny?Yer fan,
Justin N. Quiry

Dear Justin,
I have never heard of her either, but that doesn’t mean a damn thing! Simple answer: so much blues; so little time. I could spend the rest of my life just trying to catch up on the dead artists, let alone the contemporary ones.

Good news, however, I did get Wanda Johnson’s latest album to review. And, you are so right – she is great! Good thing I did find out about her because she is moving up so fast that I was in danger of being the last-to-know.

Wanda Johnson is a natural-born singer and entertainer who hails from a large family in a farming community in upstate South Carolina. Born in 1963 one of nine all-girl children, she has been performing semi-pro since the early 1990s.

Wanda is quickly gaining notoriety as a new star on the international scene. With three European tours under her belt, numerous USA festival appearances (including Chicago and Pocono), and three CDs in worldwide distribution ("Call Me Miss Wanda," "Natural Resource," and "Hold What You Got"), 2008 is going to be a big year for Wanda Johnson. Her website schedule shows continuous gigging in the Southeast with overseas touring in France, Macau (China), Poland, and the Czech Republic.

She writes much of her own music, and five of the fourteen numbers on this latest CD are penned by her. Performing live and on this CD, Wanda is, almost without exception, accompanied by Shrimp City Slim, aka Gary Erwin, the Charleston SC based label owner, producer, pianist, and composer who contributed seven album tunes.

Erwin’s deft keyboard work is a big part of the fun on the CD, and his band includes Silent Eddie Phillips – guitars, LaMont Garner – drums, Jerome Griffin – bass, Mike Kincaid – tenor sax, and Juke Joint Johnny – harmonica. All but the last two add backing and harmony vocals.

For blues purists, “Girlfriend,” a shuffle by Patricia J. Pruitt, is a 12 bar killer. Erwin opens with two fisted Chicago blues piano to accent the sad story revealing a man stealing best friend. The mid song slide-guitar solo is so completely greasy it’s just plain, down-in-the-dirt nasty. Man, I love it so much it will be on my radio show this week!

The catchy title track also opens with some bouncing piano before clever estrogen-laced lyrics send a message to women that my male brain probably can’t fully comprehend. “Hold What You Got” seems to celebrate full bodied women who should be proud of themselves as they are. “Hold what you got / don’t add no more to it. Hold what you got / don’t take none away....” And, “...that [formerly] skinny girl is a grown woman who can hold what she got / now she’s a big-legged woman / and not too bad on the top / I ain’t even jealous of you girl / hold what you got.”

Many a joke has been created by men about the “perfect woman.” Most include something about a father who owns a liquor store. In “Allergic To Mink,” Johnson beats all us men to the punch (line), “I’m a low maintenance mama, allergic to mink.” In this mid-tempo romp, each line is punctuated nicely by alternating harmonica, piano, guitar, and sax giving the song more of the creativity that makes the whole album a winner.

Most of the songs run three to four minutes which is significant. Too many times it seems, if an artist can not find a muse to craft a solid song, they can always improvise one ponderous extended guitar solo after another. But, that wears thin and ultimately exposes the truth.

As I said at the top, I know essentially nothing about Erwin Music and Wanda Johnson. But, all I need to know is contained in this wonderful release revealing there are some hugely talented musicians and composers and one rising star of a singer in South Carolina.

Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL

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